Every year, thousands flock to Louisville to try the city’s famous Hot Brown, an iconic meal that’s one of Kentucky’s cultural staples, along with Derby and bourbon.
Invented at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville, KY, the decadent sandwich loaded with cheese and carbs has a rich history that goes back to the Roaring Twenties. Read on to discover the origin of the Hot Brown sandwich, its official recipe, and the best spots in Louisville where you can try it!
In the 1920s, the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY, hosted lavish dinner dances for over 1,200 guests. The festivities often carried on to the wee hours of the morning, so afterward, the guests, worn out from an evening of dancing, would head straight to the hotel’s restaurant for a bite to eat.
As returning guests made it a habit to have a post-dinner dance meal, it wasn’t long before they looked for something more sophisticated than the traditional ham and eggs supper. Sensing his patrons’ desire for a better dining experience, Chef Fred Schmidt invented a unique dish to capture his guests’ palates.
And so, the Hot Brown sandwich (named after the hotel) was born. Chef Schmidt created it with ingredients he had on hand. It’s an open-faced turkey sandwich with crispy bacon strips and cheesy Mornay sauce.
At present, Brown Hotel still serves Hot Browns to guests from all over the world. It’s also a highly requested meal during the Kentucky Derby season. The Hot Brown sandwich has transitioned from being a local favorite into a worldwide sensation featured by news outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Southern Living, and The Los Angeles Times.
The OG Hot Brown sandwich is an open-faced sandwich made with Texas toast, sliced turkey, bacon, tomato, and Mornay sauce. The bread is served without the crusts in a broiling dish and topped with turkey and halved Roma tomato. The delicate Mornay sauce made from béchamel sauce is spread over the sandwich with cheese.
The entire dish is placed under the broiler. Once it becomes bubbly, bacon strips are laid over the hot sandwich to form an X, and the dish is garnished with Pecorino Romano cheese, paprika, and parsley.
The Hot Brown sandwich has been around since 1926 (even before the Philly cheesesteak!) and remains popular in America and other parts of the world.
As a result of its long history, it's believed that the original recipe was tweaked over the years. For instance, pimentos or peaches may have been used before instead of tomatoes. The bacon may have been added later, too—perhaps to add color or flavor to the dish.
When the Brown Hotel closed between 1972 and 1984, the original recipe for Hot Brown was also lost. However, since locals were familiar with the dish, other restaurants could recreate it and serve their version of the beloved sandwich.
When the hotel finally reopened, they brought the Hot Brown to their menu, but it wasn’t quite the same as how they used to make it. When Chef Joe Castro took over as executive chef in 1992, he rediscovered the original recipe and reintroduced it to the hotel.
Now, everyone can access Brown Hotel’s recipes through their website. It’s also featured in various publications and promotional materials for Louisville. If you want to get your hands on the official recipe, there’s no need to look further because we got it straight from the original source!
Ingredients (Makes 2 Hot Browns)
In a two‑quart saucepan, melt the butter and slowly whisk in the flour until they combine and form a thick paste (called a “roux”). Continue to cook the roux for 2 minutes over medium‑low heat while stirring frequently.
Whisk the heavy cream and whole milk into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream simmers for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk the Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Then add the ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place two slices of toast with the crusts cut off in an oven-safe dish—one portion is cut in half diagonally (corner to corner) to make two triangles, while the other slice is left in a square shape—then cover the toast slices with 7 ounces of turkey.
Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points, and set them alongside the base of the turkey and toast. Next, pour one-half of the Mornay sauce to cover the dish altogether. Sprinkle it with additional Pecorino Romano cheese.
Place the entire dish under a broiler. Remove the dish from the broiler when the cheese browns and bubbles. Finish it off by crossing two pieces of crispy bacon on top and sprinkling it with paprika and parsley. Serve immediately.
Complete the Kentucky experience by pairing your Hot Browns with Whiskey Sour! Make yourself a drink by following these steps:
Put ice in a cocktail shaker and add the bourbon, egg white, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake vigorously to mix the ingredients well. Then strain the concoction into a cocktail glass and garnish it with cherry juice.
The Brown Hotel may serve the original Hot Brown, but this Louisville staple is also prominent on the menu of top dining spots within the city! If you’re craving a good Hot Brown, or you’re looking to try the unique versions of this classic dish, here are some restaurants around town you should definitely visit:
BBC serves their Hot Brown with sourdough toast, smoked turkey, sliced tomato, bacon, Mornay sauce, cheddar jack cheese, and smoked paprika.
Bristol’s take on the Kentucky classic is made with French bread, roasted turkey breast, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, and Mornay sauce.
The Kentucky Hot Brown served by Captain’s Quarters comes with roast turkey, cheesy Mornay sauce, roasted tomatoes, Applewood smoked pepper, bacon, and toast points.
Sicilian’s innovative Hot Brown Pizza is topped with roasted turkey, bacon, and tomato over creamy cheddar Alfredo sauce.
Village Anchor’s “The Hotter Brown” is a bestseller! It comes with pulled roasted chicken, house-made stuffing with TriBeCa Oven French bread, cheddar-parmesan Mornay sauce, slow-roasted grape tomatoes, Candied Anchor Bacon, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Wild Eggs’ award-winning version comes in breakfast form called Kelsey KY Brown. It consists of toasted sourdough bread, roasted turkey, Applewood smoked bacon, diced tomato, and white cheddar Mornay, topped with a fried egg and smoked paprika.
Indulging your taste buds with a serving of Hot Brown is only the beginning of a delectable cultural experience in Kentucky. As you discover more things to do, places to visit, and meals to try in Derby City, don’t miss the opportunity to add the Louisville collection to your wardrobe and tour the town in style!